The opening of Lem’s best-known novel, Solaris, illustrates his capacity, reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke’s, to create believable accounts of futuristic technology, but the book’s central concerns are with the psychological and the theological rather than the technological.
The novel begins with a meticulous description of cosmic adventurer Kris Kelvin’s shuttle flight from the starship Prometheus to a research station on planet Solaris. The scientific verisimilitude of this introductory scene is followed by a mystical and claustrophobic tale of guilt and love by means of which Lem examines profound questions of identity, communication, creative thought, and divine power.
The central premise of the plot is that several generations of experimenters and theoreticians have attempted, without success, to comprehend and make contact with the godlike oceanic life form that surrounds the planet Solaris, an effort which is continuing. In the past, much of the research, which Lem describes by using his frequently employed device of elaborate digression, has involved cataloging complex architectonic structures on the planet’s surface and speculating on what thought processes might lie behind their appearance, evolution, and reabsorption. These speculations, a vehicle for conveying Lem’s own meditations on the nature of creative thought, vary from attributing nothing more than a mechanical origin to the structures to seeing them as something akin to the imaginings of Aristotle’s unmoved mover.
Most recently, a team of scientists has bombarded portions of the oceanic entity with...
(The entire section is 672 words.)